Archive

Archive for April, 2015

Ballot Initiatives and Michigan Roads

April 3, 2015 2 comments

Michigan voters will soon be asked to vote on a sales tax increase and other measures partly designed to raise additional revenue for the repair of state roads which are widely regarded to be in poor condition. These initiatives seem to me to be a sign of government incompetence or an inability of government to function to serve the interests of the voters.  In California, a state where these ballot proposals have often occurred, the traditional explanation is that the legislature is unable to function because it is so polarized and, as a result, the voters must step in to get things accomplished that ought to be done by the state government. But there is another aspect of the Michigan ballot which is troubling.

“Logrolling” is a word used to describe a practice in government of attaching laws with weak support to a bill containing other policies with strong support. The idea is to get a weak law passed which would not pass on its own. This seems to happen regularly at the federal level. And so one additional aspect of the Michigan ballot measure will contain an expansion of tax subsidies using the Earned Income tax credit which I suspect is a feature of the state tax code that would not garner widespread support.

I intend to vote against the Michigan ballot proposal despite the fact that I, like most voters, agree that state roads are poorly maintained. My reasons are as follows.

  1. I regard road maintenance as a responsibility of government. If the Legislature can’t meet this basic responsibility, why do I need them?
  2. Voters cannot be well-informed about budget matters compared to politicians. We solve an agency problem when we vote, electing agents (politicians) to represent the interests of the principals (the voters) in the state. Policymaking done by voters can’t possibly be better-informed than when policies are implemented by the managers that we elect. I simply don’t have the time to do the job of politicians that we elect. Poor policies are more likely to occur when ballot initiatives are used.
  3. A sales tax is a poor way to fund roads. User fees are the proper way to do this and so taxes on gasoline are a better way to fund road maintenance.
  4. I am suspicious of the logrolling that is in the ballot proposal. I find it most interesting that there seems to be little discussion of the proposal outside of the road maintenance aspect of it.
  5. Finally a message needs to be sent to the Legislature. Do your job. Or perhaps we need a new set of politicians serving the interests of the voters.

So far, polls show that the ballot proposal is not supported by the majority of taxpayers in the state. I hope this is still true when the vote is actually done. This ballot proposal s a monument to the low quality of government in Michigan.

The New York City Murder Rate in 2015

April 2, 2015 Leave a comment

I recently saw a media report that the murder rate in New York City is increasing. I decided to collect some data that might provide part of the basis for this claim. I found a report by the Police Department in the City of New York (NYC_Report). If you look at the first line of the table, the year-to-date increase in the murder rate for 2015 is just over 20 percent compared to 2014. That data clearly raises a red flag that would catch the attention of the media.

This isn’t much data upon which to base a conclusion about the causes of the apparent increase in the murder rate. In particular, there is no evidence presented here about changes in the Stop and Frisk policy of the Police Department (there are reports that the policy has been changed in some fashion). But there is little doubt that this is a developing story that bears watching. The emerging evidence will reveal some information about the value to society of the Stop and Frisk policy.

Mayor Bill de Blasio is known to be a critic of the Stop and Frisk policy that was in place when he was elected. Whatever changes he has implemented will not jeopardize his safety while he is in elected office but there will be an impact, perhaps catastrophically, on the lives of citizens of New York.

Economics One

A blog by John B. Taylor

The Grumpy Economist

One economist's views on economic policy.

The WordPress.com Blog

The latest news on WordPress.com and the WordPress community.

%d bloggers like this: